None of the great wines that we know and love today would ever have attained the popularity they currently enjoy were it not for the quality of the grapes that go into their production and the hard work of the wine producers who farm the grapes and ensure they meet the correct standards and enjoy ideal growing conditions.
It is because of this that you will often find true wine enthusiasts talk as much about the grapes used in the production of their favourite wines as they do about the wine itself. Many grapes have achieved infamy because of this and there are numerous wines out there that using nothing but one grape, thus providing the drinker with the purest possible experience.
With that in mind, we have decided to look at one of Italy’s most famous grapes in depth. The name Nebbiolo may not ring a bell in terms of wine names, however, anybody who has ever enjoyed a good Barolo has this grape to thank. As such, we think that Nebbiolo is perhaps the true grape of kings, in much the same way as Barolo has become known as the wine of kings.
So we know that Nebbiolo is used in the production of Barolo and, by extension, Barbaresco, which many see as something of a cousin to the more famous Barolo. However, it also helps to know what you can expect to experience when drinking a wine that is made predominantly using the Nebbiolo grape.
Firstly, it helps to know that the best Nebbiolo is grown in Piedmont, which just so happens to be the region that created Barolo and Barbaresco. Now, that isn’t to say Nebbiolo from any other region is of bad quality. Far from it, in fact. However, if you want to get a real representation of what Nebbiolo is and why so many love it, you should always check the wine bottle’s label to confirm where the grape comes from, especially if it’s a Barolo or Barbaresco.
With that being said, the first thing you will notice about a Nebbiolo wine is that it has something of a translucent colouring, rather than being a thick ruby red. Once introduced to the nose, you should encounter some fairly soft and delicate smells that draw you in without overwhelming you with the complexities that many other red wines tend to exhibit.
However, this delicate aroma often belies a wine that is surprisingly complex, featuring strong tannins and high acidity. As such, anybody who has never tried a wine made using the Nebbiolo grape should be aware that the bouquet can sometimes be deceptive, so they should take their time and allow their palates to adjust accordingly.
A Little More About the Taste
It doesn’t really do to comment on the complexity of the Nebbiolo wine’s taste without going into a little more detail about the notes and flavours you are likely to experience while drinking it.
Upon first sniff, you will pick out floral notes and the hints of red fruits, suggesting that you are letting yourself in for an experience that has a little bit of zest to it. While those notes will certainly be present in the wine when you drink it, you must be prepared for a cavalcade of other flavours that have the potential to drown those notes out and affect your tasting experience.
Many Nebbiolo wines feature something of a gripping tannin that has a habit of clasping itself to your teeth and the inside of your lips without letting go. It can be something of a disconcerting experience if you aren’t used to it, however, you will soon find that this power and desire to ensure you experience everything that the wine has to offer is one of the many things that lends a wine made using Nebbiolo its charm.
As you work your way past this tannic structure, you will start to unveil some of the fruity flavours that the bouquet hinted at. In particular, you should be able to quite easily identify raspberry and cherry notes, while rose and anise are also fairly common and very likely to make an appearance in a good Nebbiolo wine.
A little bit of a changeup occurs when you drink a wine made during years when the climate has been a little cooler. Such wines tend to feature different notes, including sour cranberry, leather, and rose hip, that you would otherwise not experience in a Nebbiolo wine. As such, it is always worth spending a little bit of time researching the vintage to find out about the conditions the grape was grown in. This will give you a better idea of what you should be looking out for when you finally give the wine a try.
One final tip. To get the most out of the tasting experience, you should decant the Nebbiolo for at least 45 minutes to allow it to aerate. If the wine has aged substantially, it may be worth decanting it for about two hours before drinking.
Of course, as with all great wines, the right food pairing can really turn Nebbiolo wines into something special. Unsurprisingly, given that it is a red wine, you will want to combine a Nebbiolo wine with meats. However, due to the rather bold tannins, you should avoid eating gamey and lean meats, as these often don’t have enough fat on them to absorb the tannins. What good is a meal if the wine overpowers it, after all?
Better yet, because of its high acidity, Nebbiolo matches quite well with foods that are high in saltiness and acidity themselves. Vinaigrette-based sauces go quite well with the wine, however, you should still use butter, olive oil or fat to achieve the right level of balance.
As you would expect, many Italians will tell you that Nebbiolo is best served alongside traditional Italian dishes. However, if you do want to expand your culinary horizons a little bit, you will find that the wine goes particularly well with a number of Asian dishes, particularly those featuring brown sauces.